Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thursay Think Tank--A Letter on Piracy

Dear Readers and Fellow Authors,
I was recently shocked to be confronted with a viewpoint I honestly hadn’t even contemplated before. I tried to make sense of the words that to me seemed to be excusing ebook pirates for stealing my works and actually laying the onus of preventing piracy on me, the author. It seemed to say I was responsible for making my books more readily available *in all formats* around the world, or else the piracy was somehow my fault. To say that I was appalled would be putting it mildly. I want to respond, not to an individual, but to everyone who has taken part in piracy, either as an uploader or as a downloader, as well as to those who would argue for there being any legitimacy in doing so. Because there are other options.

This thing I do, this writing, is my career.  
I am not a hobbyist.

Writing is my job. I put in anywhere from 40-90 hours a week when my health permits, and I work weekends, holidays, long after sane folk have gone to sleep and long before they wake. It’s what I do. I love writing. I love creating new worlds, and honing my craft. I love it right down to my bones, but I still have a bottom line. I still have a family to support. I still have a kidlet who will be going to college in less than three years. Right. So, there I was, flabbergasted by this recitation of all the reasons people pirate when I was hit by the following epiphany and realized I have something to say to the people who pirate, and the people who would try to explain why it is ever an author’s fault when someone steals from them.

Frankly, I don't care why they pirate.

I care that they are stealing from me. One of the points made was that people are afraid to write to authors, that they consider them somehow too important to bother. Before I was an author I wrote to authors. Loads of them. The ones in this m/m genre especially were so kind about writing back.

I don’t think authors are special, not to be approached beings.

You don't know my story, I get that. Here is a quick and dirty version. You don't know about how serving my country led to me having two risky surgeries for spinal cord compression nor how I spent two years recuperating from them. You don't know that during that time when I wrote to those authors to thank them for the free books they'd posted during the first Goodreads m/m romance groups Christmas Stuff my Stocking Anthology, because that book literally saved me from a pretty bleak depression, many of those wonderful authors replied by sending me more free books. Those were real people, reaching out in real time to ease someone else’s way. You don't know that my car was repossessed during that time, or that my daughter and I nearly became homeless and only because my landlady let me pay what I could, when I could did we not end up living in shelters. You couldn't know that. You don't know that during that time we only ate by the grace of a local food pantry.

During that time I never resorted to stealing books.

I even had a friend make copies of ebooks that she tried to give me. I can’t tell you how much I longed for those books. But I waited until I could eke out three dollars here and five dollars there to buy them.

So honestly?

I don't care if someone is poor. There are millions of legit free books out there. I don't care if they don't have a credit card. Again, there are tons of free, LEGITIMATELY FREE books out there, some of which were written by me. Every single time a pirate steals a book of mine they are literally taking food out of my daughter's mouth, stealing away her college fund, and pushing me closer and closer to having to abandon writing altogether so that I can spend my time doing something to earn money that is not so easy to steal with impunity.

Listen up. Pirating has real effects on real people in the real world.

It’s pretty much the same thing as someone stealing into your house and taking from you, stealing your car, or taking money from your bank that was set aside to pay bills. You'd be angry, wouldn’t you? Especially if you’d worked hard to earn those things and even more so if the work was dear to your heart.

Again, writing isn't a hobby for me, it's my job.

Do you get that, person downloading that one free book? Or you, uploader who thinks you’re not hurting anyone real? Or even you, person who defends them tacitly?
Perhaps you're young still, or life hasn’t burdened you with responsibility for someone else’s care.
Perhaps you haven’t had to pay bills or purchase your own food.
Maybe it’s just a case of you thinking everyone who writes and isn’t a New York Times bestseller is just a hobbyist, and that stealing their books doesn’t really hurt them.
Maybe you truly believe that authors owe you free books. I actually heard someone say this to a table full of authors once. After dropping that bombshell, that person waxed poetic about how ebooks were overpriced, and how unfair it was to ask anyone to pay over—I don’t recall what the exact price named was. And this was for books of over 300 pages. Added to that was that no author or publisher should charge over—again I don’t recall the exact number, only that it was ludicrously low—for a book no matter the length. I can tell you that my first thought was that the person in that instance was in essence saying authors should not be paid a living wage.

Wouldn't you be angry?

Think about it this way… Would it be okay with you for someone to tell you that they were going to have you work for hours, days, or months and when payday came around finally, they said, “Well, your work has been devalued because someone found a way to steal the thing that you do.  It really isn't their fault, these pirates. They’re only doing it because what you've done/created is so awesome and it's hard to get where they are…”
Again, I don't care why people steal books. It's just wrong.
There aren't a lot of jobs I can do now. I can't lift over 20 lbs. I can't sit for long periods. Sometimes my legs swell horrendously and I can't stand either. So I write. But…if I can't provide for my kid and myself by writing? I will have to stop. Eh, I'm starting to repeat myself.
Another point about why people pirate was a question about books being available in enough formats. My books are available in all the formats. And more importantly, there are free apps out there for readers to convert their books to other formats if they want. Calibre is a good one. I post things on my web pages that people can read for free there. Or at least I used to. I don't anymore.

I won’t write free books anymore—I can’t

Because I don't have time. I have to write faster and faster so I can try to make some profit before my work gets stolen. Let me say again that I love writing. Otherwise I'd have given up after the first pirate episode. I’ve been asked how I came by the numbers I shared about how much pirating had cost me on one book? It was in excess of 25k.  Simple. I multiplied the number of downloads (after less than a week of the files being up on the pirate site) by the legit cost and then figured out what my contracted percent would have been. I only did that for a span of less than a week. My sales went from really good for a first publication to less than five books sold in the next quarter. And the book released at the end of a quarter, so it's reasonable to assume without the pirate site a lot more books would have sold.

For me, it’s exhausting, trying to explain my side of this.

I won't waste time or energy talking about this anymore. Thanks to some friends I’ve found a service, Muso, that will help me deal with take down notices with a minimum of fuss and time spent. Other than that, I’ll just do what I have to take care of my family. Sadly that means no more free stories. I just can’t justify the time when pirates steal so much of my profits.

Yes, any justification of pirating upsets and offends me.

No amount of telling me that I should feel bad for the pirates or understand them is going to change the cold, hard fact that they, everyone who uploads, and everyone who downloads stolen books is STEALING. When they are my books it hurts me right away. When they are someone else's it hurts when I lose that author’s future works.

When pirates *uploaders or downloaders* steal, it’s more than a single copy of a book.

They steal authors’ motivation. They steal money from families, they steal children’s futures. They steal books that the authors will never write, because they’ve had to take some soul killing job they hate in order to support themselves and their families. They steal the free reads that authors would have written to give back to their fans, to raise monies for charity, to kick off a new series.
If you love an author’s works? Only read what you can buy of theirs. Ask your local library to acquire a copy of the book. Write to the author. We’re people. There’s not a struggle out there that one of us hasn’t gone through. And seriously, as a group we’ve got some huge fucking hearts. If you’re in a country where you can’t safely buy our books, we’ll probably post something for you online. If buying the ebooks is difficult because of where you live, tell us. We’ll probably find a way to make it easier for you to buy them there. But don’t give yourself the bullshit answer that it’s okay to steal.

Tell it Like it Is Dammit
At least be honest, and say, yep, I’m a thief, and I don’t care. You don’t get to say you’re “sticking it to the man”. That’s crap. You’re taking food from people who may well be poorer than you. That’s the truth. And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Cherie Noel


  1. Hugs. I hope the sites get taken down, although I don't know how likely that is.
    And hope you're feeling better - saw on FB that you'd had more surgery a while back. Take care.

    1. I have missed you, pointycat! Good to hear from you. :)


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